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Extra-innings rule leads to Classic thriller

Japan capitalizes on added baserunners in 11th-inning win over Netherlands
Special to MLB.com

TOKYO -- There were runners on base all night Sunday at the Tokyo Dome, so if you looked up in the top of the 11th inning and saw two more, you would hardly be surprised.

But how did they get there?

TOKYO -- There were runners on base all night Sunday at the Tokyo Dome, so if you looked up in the top of the 11th inning and saw two more, you would hardly be surprised.

But how did they get there?

They didn't get hits. They didn't walk. They weren't hit by a pitch, nor did they reach on an error.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

The runners were put there by a special rule applied for the first time at the World Baseball Classic and meant to prevent long extra-inning games -- if a game extends past 10 innings, each subsequent frame will begin with runners at first and second. It worked, as Japan scored twice in the 11th for an 8-6 win over the Netherlands.

Seiya Suzuki began the 11th inning with a sacrifice bunt that moved the runners to second and third, and Sho Nakata followed with a single that brought both home.

The rule didn't work nearly as well for the Netherlands, which was also given two free baserunners to begin its half of the inning. Manager Hensley Meulens opted not to bunt with Jurickson Profar, his hottest hitter, at bat. Profar popped up, Xander Bogaerts grounded out and Kallan Sands popped up.

"This is something I'll never forget in my life," Japan manager Hiroki Kokubu said.

The 11th-inning rule has been used before in other international tournaments. Meulens said he had been part of games where it took effect. It had never before been used at this level, though.

"It's the rule, and you've got to play by it," Meulens said. "It's a fair chance. They got a nice bunt down, and we had to play the infield in and they got a hit. It is what it is. It's a rule to try to save the pitching. We just couldn't make a pitch to get out of it."

Meulens could have chosen to walk Nakata, who doubled and homered earlier in the game. He decided against it, saying he was just as concerned about Hayato Sakamoto, who followed Nakata in the lineup.

"That guy has been super hot," Meulens said.

Nakata was ready. As the inning began and Norichika Aoki and Ryosuke Kikuchi took their places on first and second base -- the two batters who ended the previous inning become the baserunners -- Suzuki went over to Nakata.

"Suzuki mentioned to me that he would give me a chance," Nakata said. "Then my heart switched on. I tried to do my best for the team and for Suzuki, too."

The 0-1 pitch from right-hander Tom Stuifbergen was a high fastball. Nakata swung hard and sent it to left field. It fell in. Japan had the lead and held onto it.

After four hours and 46 minutes -- a game so long that children had to leave because a local ordinance forbids them from being in the ballpark past 11 p.m. -- Japan had a wild but key Classic win.

"My brain is not working right now," Kokubu joked a few minutes after it was over.

Perhaps not, but for the first time in Classic play, the 11th-inning rule was used. And it worked for Japan.

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com.

Kingdom of the Netherlands, Japan, Norichika Aoki